Proposed Cedars annexation upsets neighbors

Golf course owner says plan to become part of B.G. no secret

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

For Brush Prairie residents living near The Cedars on Salmon Creek golf course, the prospect of their homes and land being annexed into Battle Ground is a regrettable bogey on the part of the course’s owner and the city’s leadership.

For the course’s owner, the annexation proposal is a long-sought birdie.

One month after the Battle Ground City Council narrowly voted to allow annexation talks to move forward, residents of Northeast 149th Avenue and golf course owner Gordy Jolma remain at odds over the necessity of adopting the city as home. There is no par, it seems.

Residents of Northeast 149th Avenue’s five homes argue the golf course has everything to gain in the proposal. Meanwhile, they will have to give up services for which they have become accustomed and also change mailing addresses.

“We don’t see any advantages,” said Eldon Dehaan, who has lived in the Cedars for 11 years.

Jolma counters residents have known about his plans to annex the golf course since he bought the property in 2005. The golf course would benefit from being part of Clark County’s third largest city and Battle Ground would benefit from the business’s tax dollars, he added. The continued complaints don’t surprise him.

“It’s just human nature,” Jolma said. “People don’t want things to change in their backyard.”

A proposal brought forth by Jolma and the course’s former owners, the Saunders family, who also own land in the Cedars neighborhood, would add more than 300 acres to Battle Ground, officials said. The acreage includes the five residential homes.Residents of the unincorporated Brush Prairie area have previously relied on the county for most public services, except sewage, which Battle Ground provided.

For the annexation proposal to advance to a city council vote, it needs approval from residents owning property accounting for 60 percent or more of the assessed value in the proposed annexed area. The Battle Ground City Council, which has the final say, will discuss the matter again at its Aug. 15 meeting. The council initially planned to talk about annexation at its July 18 meeting, but the meeting was delayed for reasons not immediately known.

It is not atypical for animosity to creep in when annexation issues arise, said Robert Maul, Battle Ground’s community development director.

“It’s a numbers game,” Maul said. “At the end of the day, you can still have a successful annexation when some people don’t want it.”

Residents of Northeast 149th Avenue accuse Jolma and the Saunders family of manipulating the annex proposal map so that they could gain signatures from people who owned 60 percent of the annexed area’s value. The annexation map attached to the initial proposal had swatches of the Cedars on it that were later removed, residents said.

It was not immediately known Tuesday how the value of the five homes compare to the value of the golf course and the Saunders’ property. Jolma said he did not know his property’s value, as it pertained to the assessment and signatures needed for annexation. He indicated he purchased the 175-acre course for more than $4 million and had “put in millions of dollars” since.

Jolma said he did not know why the meeting to discuss the 60 percent valuation had been delayed until Aug. 15. He surmised it had something to do with “county bureaucracy” and the use of market value in determining assessed valuations, a move that created a “gray area.”

Jolma noted many of the homes removed from the annexation proposal were taken off because residents opposed becoming part of Battle Ground. He said he was uncertain why the homes on Northeast 149th Avenue remained on the annexation map.

Northeast 149th Avenue residents were adamant city officials failed to show them how they would benefit from becoming Battle Ground residents. The move might save them a small amount in tax dollars, but it would also likely require them to change to Battle Ground addresses and rely on new agencies for basic services such as fire and police protection, they added.

There is also the question of identity.

“I don’t feel a part of Battle Ground,” said Janet Hoppe-White, a Cedars resident the past 15 years. “We’re so far south. For most of the business I do, I drive to Vancouver and Orchards.”

Jolma views the annexation as a win-win for his business and the city.

His long-term goals for the course include building on the property. He cautioned such construction won’t begin until the housing market shows signs of life.

“From day one, it’s never been a secret,” Jolma said of his company’s desire to build. “We have some non-golf course property that is developable. Someday when there is demand and the market conditions warrant it, we would like to develop the property.”

Maul said the city of Battle Ground has yet to see the golf course’s development plans.

Clark County officialsdid not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.